By Marco Stojanovik
The long abandoned Curdimurka railway siding located on the Oodnadatta Track is incredibly remote. A few kilomoles west of Lake Eyre, 104km west of Marre and 620 kilometres north of Adelaide, it really is in the middle of nowhere. There are no houses, no phone service, no internet and very few trees – and the only people there are passing through. Yet, it holds a fascinating history beckoning to be explored as a key location on the old Overland Telegraph Line from Adelaide to Darwin and the important original Ghan Railway through Central Australia.
Odyssey Traveller conducts a tour of Curdimurka as part of our 18-day small group tour to the Oodnadatta Track and Flinders Ranges starting and finishing in the city of Adelaide. We stop in Curdimurka on way from William Creek to Lake Eyre and Marree and revel in the stunning outback scenery and history that the railway siding holds. This article explores Curdimurka’s history and attractions today to assist your tour.
In 1861-1862, the surveyor and explorer John McDouall Stuart led the first successful expedition to traverse the Australian mainland from south to north and return, through the centre of the continent. It was during his expedition that he found permanent water near Curdimurka making future passage through the centre of Australia possible.
Following this route explored by John McDouall Stuart, the Overland Telegraph Line from Adelaide to Darwin was built in 1872 linking places where water could be found – often at a mound spring related to the Great Artesian Basin. Eleven telegraph repeater stations were built at these locations, some of the best preserved today at the Coward Springs Campground (complete with natural artesian spa), Curdimurka and the Old Peake ruins.
Later, when the original Ghan railway was constructed, starting in the 1870s, it followed this same route. The steam trains of the time needed regular refills of water, so sidings were established where this was available. The Curdimurka siding dates back to 1886 and for many years was home to fettlers who looked after the railway line between Marree and William Creek.
Originally called the Great Northern Railway, the Ghan played a significant role in South Australia’s history. It provided an important transport route into Central Australia and a much-needed service to many of the isolated cattle and sheep stations. Eventually the railway line ran from Port Augusta via Quorn, Hawker, Parachilna, Copley, Farina, Marree, Curdimurka, William Creek and Oodnadatta to Alice Springs.
When diesel engines replaced steam, the need for watering points ended. Eventually in 1980 the new wider gauge Tarcoola-Alice Springs Railway was built further to the west, away from flood country, and the last train on the old Ghan line made its journey. The Curdimurka siding is the last station yard of significance that is still intact on the Old Ghan line and is listed on the South Australian Heritage Register (along with the railway remnants at Coward Springs).
Six years after the closing of the Ghan Railway, members of the Ghan Preservation Society, who repair and restore the Curdimurka Siding, came up with the idea of holding a biennial outback ball to finance the work. The first Curdimurka Outback Ball held in 1986 attracted only 100 people. But, as word spread of the black-tie event, its popularity grew, drawing several thousand men and women from all over Australia and even overseas for subsequent balls throughout the 1980s and ‘90s.
For a brief period every two years an intoxicating energy would take over with lively campsites, a brimming bar, a restaurant serving an assortment of fine foods, and a dance floor seething with light, colour and motion. Then once the night was over, the scores of people who had arrived to dance in the middle of nowhere would pack up and disappear in a haze of dust down the Oodnata track.
Today Curdimurka lies on the Oodnadatta Track – 620 kilometres of legendary outback road from Marree in the south to Maria in the north following the historic route of the Old Ghan railway for most of the way. If you’re travelling along the track, Curdimurka is a great spot to get out and stretch your legs. Overnight stays are allowed and there is no fee for parking your van.
The Curdirmurka siding remains intact and the railways building, desalination plant, water tower, fetters cottages, and Stuart Creek Bridge are all still standing in reasonable condition dominating the flat landscape. There are still rail lines too as well as a never-ending line of scattered remains of both telegraph and track. In all, it’s a fascinating spot to visit and catch a glimpse of an historically significant railways from a time long gone.
Tour of Curdimurka
Odyssey traveller visits Curdimurka during our 18-day small group tour to the Oodnadatta Track and Flinders Ranges, designed for mature and senior travellers, limited to 12 people. Starting and ending in Adelaide, our tour takes you on an odyssey through the rugged, weathered peaks and rocky gorges of the Flinders Ranges in outback South Australia. These are truly some of the most dramatic and beautiful landscapes in all of Australia and are often topped off with an amazing sunset at the end of each day.
Our adventure takes you not only to the well-known sights such as Wilpena Pound and Flinders Range National Park, but also to lesser-known gems, including Brachina Gorge, Parachilna Gorge and Bunyeroo Gorge, which we see and explore on a collection of day trips through the Flinders regions.
During this trip, we seek and explore an ancient landscape that is more than 600 million years old. We learn about the Aboriginal culture and history, dating back 60,000 years, and reflect on the history of European settlement in the 18th and 19th centuries. We also see a wide diversity of abundant wildlife in their natural habitat of the extraordinary landscape of the Australian outback.
Odyssey Traveller has been serving world travellers since 1983. All tours provide an authentic and culturally informed travel experience, that goes beyond the usual tourist sites in favour of drawing out the hidden histories of our destinations. Our guides are chosen for their local expertise, and we move in genuinely small groups: usually 6-12 per tour. Our tours are all-inclusive, encompassing accommodation, attraction entries, and transport. For more information, click here, and head to this page to make a booking.
Articles about Australia published by Odyssey Traveller:
- The Kimberley: A Definitive Guide
- Uncovering the Ancient History of Aboriginal Australia
- Aboriginal Land Use in the Mallee
- Understanding Aboriginal Aquaculture
- Mallee and Mulga: Two Iconic and Typically Inland Australian Plant Communities (By Dr. Sandy Scott).
- The Australian Outback: A Definitive Guide
For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.
External articles to assist you on your visit to the Oodnadatta Track and Flinders Ranges:
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Small group tour; Broken Hill and back
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Coober Pedy, South Australia
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Expeditions of John McDouall Stuart in the Flinders.
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The Australian Outback: A Definitive Guide
Explore learn and consider what is the outback in this article. For mature and senior travelers considering joining a small group package tours into the outback to see, learn and explore about this unique place, not only the landscape but the Aboriginal approach to living. On each of the tours for couples and the single traveler you learn something different but fascinating, from Outback Queensland, the Flinders, Broken Hill and the Kimberley and the wildflowers all contribute to this question, what is the outback?